Solis Umbra: Wildfire

Broken Memories

She couldn’t remember her name, but she knew that she had just turned eight years old three days ago. Her father had gotten her a new dress, and chided her yesterday for already dirtying it. Today, however, he seemed to have forgotten, and was nothing but smiles and laughter as he chased her around the old oak tree outside their home. A butterfly glided by, held aloft by the warm summer air, before landing on a flower to rest its wings. She barely noticed it at all, too wrapped up in the joy of the moment to spare the attention.

She couldn’t remember where the place was, but she remembered it feeling peaceful. A small meadow in a quiet wood, she’d retreated here after a fight with her friend. It was that same friend that now approached, hat in hand, twigs snapping underfoot. The two girls talked through the day and into the night, eventually falling asleep in each other’s arms at the foot of a great elm. When morning’s light stirred them as it filtered through the red leaves of autumn, they promised to never let anything come between them again.

She couldn’t remember his face, but she could remember how strong his skin felt against hers. His arms about her shoulders and his hips between her thighs, she knew even then that this wasn’t love, even though she wanted it to be. A bead of sweat ran down his neck and dripped onto her chin, and she let out a small giggle. She tried to stifle it, not wanting to ruin the moment, but he noticed and returned her smile. The pendant he wore—a sparrow that hung from a long, thin chain—felt cold on the skin of her chest, but she liked it.

She couldn’t remember how it made her feel, but she remembered what she saw. The blue and warm sky so suddenly turning dark and cold as the sun fell to ground. Even from where she stood atop the rocky cliffs of Chaenaroc, the ground trembled terribly at the impact, and she lost her footing. The fall was at once eternal and instantaneous, terrible and beautiful, and she remembered turning over just in time to notice the ground rushing up to meet her.

The shopkeeper had only offered a cocked eyebrow when she’d placed an entire sack of Brannite on his counter. She knew it wasn’t enough, but it was all she had, and he was kinder than he let on. Pity in his eyes, he gently slid the glass box over to her, and she reached out to it, fearful of what might happen. As she gently picked it up and studied the preserved butterfly inside, she felt—for the first time in over three-hundred years—joy.

Her companions were far more patient with her than she’d deserved as they followed her into the petrified forest. The rumors were too good to pass up, too compelling to ignore, and she couldn’t summon the will to be anything but compliant. When she finally found her prize, the others gathered around her, dumbstruck at the banality of it. A single red elm leaf preserved in rock, utterly without value to anyone but her, cradled like a child in her hands as it filled her with love.

She hadn’t been capable of crying for some time, but she wanted to. She imagined tears streaming down her face as she let out some sob-filled apology, but instead she was only able to mutter out a soft goodbye. It came from the heart, she knew, but it wasn’t the same. She’d spent almost a decade looking for the sparrow pendant on a long, thin chain, and parting with it now almost felt like a waste as she gingerly placed it atop the headstone before turning to leave.

Even today, she would reach into her pocket to rub the fossilized leaf or look at the small glass box when she felt lost and alone. The pain never left, never lessened, no matter how hard she tried to let it go or how far she traveled. Despite knowing that she’d never be whole, though, she’d learned to make peace with it. She couldn’t remember the boy’s face, but he had given her companionship in her lonely days. She couldn’t remember where the meadow was, but it had taught her what the love of a friend was. And she couldn’t remember her own name, but those around her had called her Traveler, and that seemed just as good.

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